Checho Checks Out of the Overlook Hotel

For the last year the Selección has been all about image, an insubstantial rebranding exercise with about as much chance of success as getting rid of a tape worm by rougeing yourself up. Batista constantly tried to give the impression that he was feelin’ fine, that he was a nice, simple guy, just a football man – nothing like the media whore Maradona. Yet in reality he was far worse. His laconic, laid-back style was just as vacuous as Diego’s occasional diatribes. Lest we forget, however, Maradona is a real sociopath whereas Batista is a poser. His desperate attempts to convince us of his self-assurance never once rang true. His endless harping on about his idea futbolística was as cringeworthy as the holiday snaps he’d take with startled and/or bored footballers and show the world on twitter. The craven little captions remind us of a hip priest trying to get down with the kids.

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The stubbly wonder Sergio Batista had just taken his seat before the gang of shivering pressmen. Serious questions needed to be asked; serious answers needed to be given. This was very serious. A 1-1 draw at home against Bolivia is a serious matter at the best of times, but, seriously, when you’re looking to kickstart a long-term project of reinstating Argentina among the serious teams of the world, a project so serious even stopping to pick up the gaudy bauble that is the over-sized Copa América along the way needs to be given some serious thought, an emphatic win is hardly even sufficient – you need a serious declaration of serious principles, you need to finally see the much-vaunted footballing philosophy manifest itself on the pitch for the full 90 minutes, you need to produce a display of such earth-scorching fantasy that a mere footballing humiliation of the kind not seen since Maradona’s boys last went to La Paz does serious harm to the normally chummy relations between the Silver Surfer and the Tin Man. But a lame, frustrating, heart-chilling farce of a performance, a desperately humdrum, plodding, exasperating showing from your boys, no, that’s a very serious matter indeed.

Checho had just got into his opening mumbles about how happy he was with the group, however, when the grave atmosphere was interrupted whimsically by some unseen announcer. The Man of the Match award had to be given out. The LG Man of the Match award had priority and Batista could damn well wait. The camera zoomed out jerkily, taken unawares much like Banega at the near post, and Messi shuffled in from the right, as he once did for Barcelona. All hunched shoulders and darting eyes, Lionel had to walk across the front of the table where Checho sat statue-like in a vain attempt to maintain his dignity. The best way to do this, he seemed to suggest, was to try and put the few feet of the universe immediately surrounding him on pause.

Messi wasn’t having such a great time of it either. Although posing gormlessly for photos must be a reflex at this stage, the seconds he spent holding what looked like a giant cheque seemed seriously vexing. Not for the first time watching Messi suffer in South America, we were reminded of Kevin Kilbane, in particular his bewilderment at being named man of the match after the 1-2 win over San Marino a few years back. He tried to exit swiftly, but he was stopped by some LG stooges, who gestured to him to put his hand on or near one of their new line of phones.

Checho continued to sit upright, passive in attitude, impassive in aspect. It was only a matter of some thirty seconds but by the time Messi scuttled back across the front of the podium and straight out the door on the far side, icicles were hanging from his stately nose, the Jack Torrance impression reinforced by the greasy slicked-back hair.

Checho Batista at the post-game press conference

That would never have happened to Maradona. Or if it had, he would have dealt with it so differently, as after the now-foreboding Germany friendly in March 2010.

Poor Checho, he never really had a chance, did he? Tonight, if the carefully orchestrated ‘rumour’ mill is to believed, he’ll become the first manager to be fired in don Julio Grondona’s thirty-two year reign. He’ll also have the ignominious distinction of having been in charge for less time than any Argentina manager since the early 1970s. The fact is, however, that Batista was never really in charge. He was just the caretaker. He has always been the caretaker.

The evil spirits at the Overlook Hotel/AFA have been calling the shots all along. We’ve been through all this before: ghouls like Humbertito Grondona and Bilardo deliberately delayed Batista’s appointment in order to accommodate themselves in their respective positions in the turmoil that threatened to engulf them following the World Cup last year. This strategy carried the extra bonus of weakening the new man’s hand. After Diego had spent a year and a half giving them wedgies and indian burns, it was imperative the next man be a pushover – someone willing to lead a band of nobodies on a Tour of Shame round Nigeria and Belgium a few weeks before the first Copa América on home soil in a quarter of a century; someone whose ear could be bent so that players bound to certain agents could get some potentially-lucrative game-time in the prestigious albiceleste jersey. A financially-secure national team coach with his own ideas about what games will be played where and with which players is merely a hindrance, an eyesore on an otherwise delightful, lush, dollar-green prairie. Besides, what’s the point of racking one’s brains for the perfect candidate anyway? Sure with better men than Batista, the results in World Cups and Copas were always the same: quarter finals or lose to Brazil. Unlike Delbert Grady, the AFA aren’t even too interested if the job gets done or not. People are not going to lose interest in football: they’ll keep painting their faces and playing for tickets. A new man can be brought in. They’re not worried about any ‘nigger cook’. 

What is important, though, is that the illusion is maintained; the pueblo loves an idol, an image. And so Messi was thrust to the fore – the Messiah presented as a strong man whose every whim must be met, the man to whom the rest must bow and cower if anything is to be achieved. It was irrelevant whether Messi actually wanted any of this, – pegamequemegusta has it on good authority that lil Lionel’s only real concerns as he roamed the halls of the hotel on his tricycle was to avoid the terrifying spectre of the Milito-Burdisso sisters – but someone had to be seen to be occupying the vacuum the mumbling Checho clearly couldn’t fill. 

Messi enjoying some downtime during the Copa América earlier this month

For the last year the Selección has been all about image, an insubstantial rebranding exercise with about as much chance of success as getting rid of a tape worm by rougeing yourself up. Batista constantly tried to give the impression that he was feelin’ fine, that he was a nice, simple guy, just a football man – nothing like the media whore Maradona. Yet in reality he was far worse. His laconic, laid-back style was just as vacuous as Diego’s occasional diatribes. Lest we forget, however, Maradona is a real sociopath whereas Batista  is a poser. His desperate attempts to convince us of his self-assurance never once rang true. His endless harping on about his idea futbolística was as cringeworthy as the holiday snaps he’d take with startled and/or bored footballers and show the world on twitter. The craven little captions remind us of a hip priest trying to get down with the kids.

May 6th: 'We gave Nico the folio. He's really psyched! Always a pleasure to talk footie with him.'
11th May: 'With Otamendi watching the Barcelona game. We talked football and what lies ahead.'
April 28th: 'Meeting over with Lucas Biglia. We spoke of the future and our footballing idea.'
May 4th: 'At an Inter Milan training session. I was received very well by Leonardo. Later I had lunch with the players.'

It’s a still-frame version of An Impossible Job – but without the sympathy. Do you, dear handsome reader, think for one minute the players didn’t take the piss out of him for it?

He was isolated and alone from the start, then, but he did himself no favours. The shallowness of the ‘project’ was reflected in the gutless displays on the pitch. For all his talk of a plan, of folios, DVDs and analysis to ensure success, it immediately became clear in the Copa América that, far from producing something novel, he may as well have spent the previous few months rattling out the same sentence over and over again on a beat-up Underwood. His one innovation, playing Messi as the central striker, he abandoned after 45 goalless minutes against Bolivia. The Uruguayans bashed him on the head with a bat and locked him in the pantry. The ghouls were none too pleased. 

Over the last few days, the brave administrators at the AFA have been calling for his head. Yes, in the great democracy that is Argentine football, the same people who apparently voted Batista in last October 19-1 are now, according to a report in Olé today, 16-4 against him staying on. They regard the Copa América campaign as an unremitting disaster and have lost all faith in the man who only last month signed his contract taking him through to the end of the World Cup qualifiers. Most importantly, however, some are upset they were not allowed into the dressing room in Santa Fe, while Checho’s brothers were. Now it’s Batista’s turn to stay out in the freezing cold, lost in a maze midst a blizzard of bullshit as the little pigs at the AFA yet again seek to save the hairs on their chinny-chin-chins.

Humbertito & Bilardo

The favourite for the job is Alejandro Sabella. He spent much of his career as Passarella’s assistant before winning the Libertadores and a few league titles with Estudiantes in 2009. It’s really quite irrelevant, however. Humbertito Grondona and Bilardo look  likely to stay on in their posts, looking out for their own interests, messing about in team affairs, undermining the manager and generally helping to bring out the worst in the players available. Don Julio, of course, will remain untouched and will continue to sate the ghouls at the AFA with the blood of Argieball. Great party, isn’t it?

Argentina 0-4 Germany: Part III – I Wanted to Play Football for the Coach

After 30 seconds he received the ball in a comfortable position, tried to pass it to a teammate and promptly fell on his arse. After two minutes he gave away a silly foul out by the touchline. From the ensuing free kick he lost his man and Argentina were a goal behind. In the next ten minutes, he gave the ball away several times and by the tenth minute he had been booked. Only Germany deciding to relinquish their grip on Argentina’s neck meant that he was able to hide until half time.

Just as in the Nigeria match, however, Maradona was too slow with his substitutions. More or less the first time the ball came his way more than twenty minutes into the second half, Otamendi and Demichelis contrived to turn a relatively unthreatening situation into the killer goal for Germany. [Muller lying prone on the grass was still more than a match for both of them]. Maradona bottled it spectacularly, taking off Otamendi and replacing him with… nobody.

Pegamequemegusta spilled maté all over the table at this point and yelled furiously at scandalised family and friends. He’s just turned a 2-0 or, at best, a 2-1 into a three or four goal rout! Yet again an Argentina manager bottles it in the second half of a WC quarter final. Incredible. In that respect, never having been in that position before, Maradoan was found out. He finished the match with four or five strikers on the pitch but now without any pretence of a system whatsoever, like Louis Van Gaal with Holland in the Greatest Match of All time in 2001.

Part III

Uff, this is getting tiresome. The match feels like it was a million years ago. It’s hard to care much anymore. The writing of all this nonsense has involved endless commentaries on the telly and protracted conversations on exactly the same topic. It’s necrophilia without the pulse-quickening thrill of transgression or the refreshing spike of the wind on your bare nipples; it’s sadomasochism without the alluring smell of leather. Still, this post-mortem would be nothing without a few words devoted to the defence.

Although no-one was in any way convinced by Argentina’s defence coming into the game, most informed people reckoned they might just be able to get away with it. Jonathan Wilson again:

“Manager Diego Maradona will surely maintain that solid, deep back four. [….] Germany’s forwards are very good at exploiting space, but Argentina won’t give them space. Its back four focuses almost exclusively on defending; Maradona’s side is not reliant, as England and Australia are, on attacking full-backs.”

For whatever reason, no team had really gotten behind them so far. Nigeria had once or twice but were too bad to punish them; Korea came straight at them and created little or nothing; Greece didn’t even play; Mexico scored the first time they tried to turn Demichelis, but for some reason persisted with speculative long shots.

Germany didn’t. Their patience in attack was remarkable. The didn’t even need long diagonal balls to pull the players out of position. They just passed the ball past the defenders calmly, and along the ground, too. All the goals were scored from within about ten yards of the goal. It seemed unreal the ease with which they sailed by the non-existent challenges. Wilson: “it doesn’t matter how many players you have at the back if none of them put in a challenge.”

The brain in the tank’s best line, though was: “Argentina’s insipidness was bewildering.” Bewildering is good, as the obtuse counsellor would say. And as Carlitos Tevez said after the game, Germany didn’t surprise Argentina at all: “We knew what they were going to do, we had worked on it in training but we were unable to stop them. That was our greatest sin.”

If there were to be one central thesis of this whole mammoth piece, it’ wouldn’t be Jogi Löw’s theory that Argentina were simply ‘a broken team’: Argentina were set up to stop Germany but lost every single battle on the pitch; and that Maradona failed to take action in time, despite the fact that several players were playing as if they’d just found themselves transported Quantum Leap-style onto the pitch in a World Cup quarter-final.

The greatest example of a player having a nervous breakdown on the pitch was poor Nico Otamendi. He’s a good player, he has played well before and will again. Perhaps he wasn’t playing in his best position but he had arguably been man of the match against Mexico. The kind of meltdown he had in the second half on Saturday usually comes served with tuna. Maradona was doing him no favour by leaving him on the pitch and he should have come off at half-time at the latest.

Otamendi misses Al desperately as his latest Quantum Leap sees him thrust into right back in a WC quarter final

After 30 seconds he received the ball in a comfortable position, tried to pass it to a teammate and promptly fell on his arse. After two minutes he gave away a silly foul out by the touchline. From the ensuing free kick he lost his man and Argentina were a goal behind. In the next ten minutes, he gave the ball away several times and by the tenth minute he had been booked. Only Germany deciding to relinquish their grip on Argentina’s neck meant that he was able to hide until half time.

Just as in the Nigeria match, however, Maradona was too slow with his substitutions. More or less the first time the ball came his way more than twenty minutes into the second half, Otamendi and Demichelis contrived to turn a relatively unthreatening situation into the killer goal for Germany. [Muller lying prone on the grass was still more than a match for both of them]. Maradona bottled it spectacularly, taking off Otamendi and replacing him with… nobody.

Pegamequemegusta spilled maté all over the table at this point and yelled furiously at scandalised family and friends. He’s just turned a 2-0 or, at best, a 2-1 into a three or four goal rout! Yet again an Argentina manager bottles it in the second half of a WC quarter-final. Bewildering. In that respect, never having been in that position before, Maradona was found out. He finished the match with four or five strikers on the pitch but now without any pretence of a system whatsoever, like Louis Van Gaal with Holland in the Greatest Match of All time in 2001.

It seemed obvious that if Argentina went behind first in the game it was going to be a lot more difficult, nigh on impossible, such is Germany’s strength on the counter-attack. Surprisingly though, and good news for Spain on Wednesday, that’s not how the match was won. Germany didn’t just sit back and wait: they wither lost their nerve or were genuinely unable to do anything for a good fourty minutes of the match. Mascherano kept Özil quiet as a laryngitis-stricken mouse. Olé described his efforts, aptly in our opinion, as ‘almost moving at times’.

Most of the analysis of this match focused on the first twenty minutes and the last twenty. As we detailed in the previous instalment, it was the initial Otamendi collapse coupled with Argentina’s misfiring front players who let them down, failing to even come close despite extended bouts of possession.

Unlike the internet geeks pegamequemegusta spent the whole first part of this glorified exercise in self-harm taking the piss out of, Johnny Giles on RTÉ offered a simpler, more sensible, more traditional breakdown of events. Jonathan Wilson’s reading of events was correct, too, of course, but he approaches the game from a completely different point of view. Gilesy’s is more conventional, more classic, and more accurate than the diagrams and stills of the bloggers:

  • Would a better team have punished them in that 15-20 spell [in the second half]?

  • Well they could have done, Darren, that’s the problem, and they had a little bit of bad luck cause they had some reasonable chances at that stage that could have changed the whole course of the game. In any game… every game is different and there are stages in it where you’re on top and you have to score your goals. Sometimes the other team get on top and you have to defend… It ebbs and flows. Through experience you learn that ‘if that happens then this is what we’re going to do’, and I think that the German team have to learn that. They have to learn to say [to themselves]: ‘Look, this team is not doing its stuff, we’re a goal up, we have to take advantage of it’. And the best way to take that advantage and kill a game off is to score goals.

We feared coming into the competition that even if things were to work out for Maradona’s Argentina, even if the butterfly didn’t emerge from the chrysalis horribly deformed, the lack of game time and the poor squad selection could come back to haunt him. In the end it was somewhat more complicated than that rather facile argument. Those aspects of the preparations certainly didn’t help but the inexplicable implosion of Brazil does constitute a rebuttal to a certain extent.

Unfortunately, Gilesy let himself down immediately after this speech by admitting that he had no idea what things were like in the Argentine camp or what their preparations were. This lack of background knowledge is the downside of the wizened footballer pundit (yet it is not too far removed from the know-it-all geeks who so spectacularly fall between two sweaty thighs of ignorance in their attempts to offer pseudo-scientific previews and reviews of every single match). Nevertheless, he didn’t imagine Maradona working on corners, free kicks or on instilling any kind of discipline on the team. Pegamequemegusta has only spent the last three weeks demolishing that myth: four of their ten goals came from set-pieces and only excellent goalkeeping denied them on a few more. A bewildering indicator of how lost they were in the Germany match was that all these training ground moves just disappeared.

Or the match can be summed up in an even more concise way: Argentina were shit.  And unless they come up with at least three midfielders and four defenders over the next four years, they won’t win in Brazil either. So far Maradona could well be staying for the Copa América next year in his homeland: one last shot at some kind of glory and the opportunity to show that just as he learned from the qualifiers he is capable of drawing lessons from this defeat, too. If he does, as Lou Reed mumbles sweetly into the ear of a transvestite,  Diego, i’d give it all up for you:

Argentina 0-4 Germany – Part II: Full of High Sentence but a Bit Obtuse

With Tevez, Di María and Higuaín all performing so badly and with such a lack of discipline, Maradona’s plan imploded spectacularly on Saturday. Despite, as Jonathan Wilson says in his Sports Illustrated article, Argentina looking the more ‘threatening team’ after the opening 20 minutes or so, they didn’t create one decent chance. On Off the Ball tonight, he expanded on why Argentina’s approach should work, saying, in characteristic fashion, that “triangles always beat lines”. The only two times we remember the forwards actually making those angles they created two half-chances: the first when Messi put Tevez through; the second when Higuaín was caught offside. This was supposed to be Argentina’s great strength but they individuals failed spectacularly. They were impatient from the off. Frustrated with their own ineptitude, it wasn’t long before they began shooting lamely over the bar from 25 yards. A strikeforce that had promised to slice the German defence in a manner reminscent of a mathematician’s wet dream, ended up looking but full of high sentence and more than little obtuse.

Part II

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be; Am an attendant lord, one that will do To swell a progress, start a scene or two […]

Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse; At times, indeed, almost ridiculous— Almost, at times, the Fool.

Pegamequemegusta would not be at all surprised to learn that all of these wretched scribblers – though we are all scribbling wretchedly for our one reader, Jebus – have a framed picture of famed tactics guru and Krang impersonator, Jonathan Wilson, sitting on their desks midst the piles of kleenex and take-away receptacles. Unfortunately, they lack the knowledge, writing ability and the class.

Jonathan Wilson towers above his imitators

In his preview of the game, he argued that Argentina had the edge over Germany, and not just due to certain individual talents. Even in midfield, he reckoned Maxi and Di María should have been able to make up for their lack of energy against Schweinsteiger and Khedira with their movement: “And if Di Maria does start to drift left, threatening to unleash the crossing ability that proved so devastating at Benfica last season, then Germany really is in trouble.

The forwards

As it turned out, however, no matter where Di María drifted in the game he was going to be equally ineffective. We talked in our own preview about how important he was to the team. Following the abandonment of Maradona’s ‘Verón is my Xavi’ plan, and Jonás’s replacement by Otamendi to ensure greater balance and security, the Xavi-Iniesta tandem was entrusted to a deep-lying combination of Tevez & Messi. In this schema, with the real Lionel operating almost as a decoy, Di María was effectively supposed to take on the Messi role. (Not that Argentina were trying to ape Barcelona but certain aspects of their plan are best illustrated by a comparison with that team).

The new idea was quite sophisticated and received a great deal of kudos from pegamequemegusta and everyone who enjoyed watching Argentina in the opening games. All the time, however, they were carrying Di María, who looked as composed as a bag of snakes. We signalled in the preview that what we considered one of Maradona’s most astute decisions looked like it was going to blow up in his face.

He did up his game somewhat in the Germany match – at least this time he looked for the ball – didn’t know what foot he wanted to use and his execution was woeful. He is certainly well capable of the role but it appears the burden was too much for Real Madrid’s new signing. (Indeed, we wonder if that added sense of expectation wasn’t another contributory factor to his flaccid WC).

Pegamequemegusta doesn’t mean to blame Di María for a 4-0 defeat, though, not by any means. Besides the defence, which we never expected to be the most solid unit known to man since Diego Forlán’s six-pack, we reserve a great share of that for other favourite players of ours, and much more experienced ones, too.

Carlitos Tevez, for example, had an absolute nightmare. Olé gave him a 5/10 when the rest of his teammates averaged about 3/10. These extra points were down to his commitment and his fighting spirit, the old Carlitos clichés. We love Tevez but he talks too much. In 2006 he spent the entire build-up to the Germany match talking about how if it came to penalties he was going to take the first and blast it at Lehman’s head: “it’ll either be a goal or it’ll take his head off.” Funny, ballsy, delightful; but when it came to the penalty shoot-out he was absent. Ayala and Cambiasso stepped up before him; they missed and Argentina were out.

Tevez last Monday

Likewise this week, his two goals against Mexico meant he was on the front cover of Olé last Monday and was shooting his mouth off all week. When it came to the match, however, he played like an angry mob. There was plenty of commitment alright but no control, plenty of gesticulating but no organising. He embodied the caricature that so many people had expected of this Maradona team. He completely abandoned his defensive responsibilities and failed to link up with any of his teammates, be it the midfielders or the attack. He bottled it so badly that even though Argentina were chasing the game, it would have been preferable to have hauled him off and put someone else in midfield. The failure was not a question of tactics, it was the personnel: Tevez had a job to do and all he did was a Steven Gerrard impression.

There have been many soothing words for Messi, too, and we aren’t going to pillory him either for the failures of the entire team. He could have done much better, though. Again we back Maradona’s plan: it wasn’t foolproof by any means but with all the pieces working in sync it could well have made the most of Messi’s ability. He was let down by Tevez in particular, as Carlitos was in the team primarily to associate with him and generate play.

Without the help of his teammates, far from being the Messi of Barcelona, Messi just ended up looking like a poor man’s Xavi in a team of Ibrahimobitches. His influence was diluted successively until it disappeared completely. Argentina looked as naive as Arsenal in the 2009 semifinal and they were torn apart. This time Otamendi starred as the unfortunate Kieron Gibbs, Muller as Ronaldo.

Yet, like Tevez, Messi cannot be absolved so easily of all responsibility to organise things. Maradona’s rhetoric may overstep the mark in terms of his demands for Messi to ‘become a man’, but he really is going to have to impose himself more in future. A measure of how ineffective he was is revealed by a factoid we read that he wasn’t fouled once in the entire game.

Pegamequemegusta giddily hoped after the first round that Messi would continue to hit the post with Higuaín & co. knocking in the rebounds so that he’d keep tilting towards goal for the full 90 minutes of every game. In hindsight, though, we can’t help but feel the lack of a goal just pissed him off and drained his confidence.

Higuaín was just hopeless on Saturday. Of course he didn’t get much service and the Germans defended surprisingly well. Still, his match was summed up by being caught offside three times in about five minutes. He looked distraught when it was still one-nil and there was half an hour to go. If Tevez lived up to his own caricature as a headless chicken, Higuaín could well have had a River crest on his jersey, so gutless was his performance.

With Tevez, Di María and Higuaín all performing so badly and with such a lack of discipline, Maradona’s plan imploded spectacularly on Saturday. Despite, as Jonathan Wilson says in his Sports Illustrated article, Argentina looking the more ‘threatening team’ after the opening 20 minutes or so, they didn’t create one decent chance. On Off the Ball tonight, he expanded on why Argentina’s approach should work, saying, in characteristic fashion, that “triangles always beat lines”. The only two times we remember the forwards actually making those angles they created two half-chances: the first when Messi put Tevez through; the second when Higuaín was caught offside. This was supposed to be Argentina’s great strength but they individuals failed spectacularly. They were impatient from the off. Frustrated with their own ineptitude, it wasn’t long before they began shooting lamely over the bar from 25 yards. A strike force that had promised to slice the German defence in a manner reminiscent of a mathematician’s wet dream, ended up looking but full of high sentence and more than little obtuse.